Glutamate, acting through its N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) and non-NMDA receptors in the hypothalamus, regulates reproductive neuroendocrine functions via direct and indirect actions upon gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) neurones. Previous studies indicate that the NMDA receptor subunit NR2b undergoes changes in protein and gene expression in the hypothalamus in general, and on GnRH neurones in particular, during reproductive ageing. In the present study, we examined whether the NR2b-expressing cell population, both alone and in association with the NR1 subunit (i.e. the latter subunit is necessary for a functional NMDA receptor), is altered as a function of age and/or steroid hormone treatment. Studies focused on the anteroventral periventricular (AVPV) nucleus of the hypothalamus, a region critically involved in the control of reproduction. Young (3-5 months), middle-aged (9-12 months), and aged (approximately 22 months) female rats were ovariectomised and, 1 month later, they were treated sequentially with oestradiol plus progesterone, oestradiol plus vehicle, or vehicle plus vehicle, then perfused. Quantitative stereologic analysis of NR2b-immunoreactive cell numbers in the AVPV showed an age-associated decrease in the density of NR2b-immunoreactive cells, but no effect of hormone treatment. In a second study, immunofluorescent double labelling of NR2b and NR1 was analysed by confocal microscopy of fraction volume, a semi-quantitative measure of fluorescence intensity. No effect of ageing was detected for immunofluorescent NR1 or NR2b alone, whereas the NR2b fraction volume increased in the oestradiol plus vehicle group. With ageing, the fraction volume of the NR2b/NR1-colocalised subunits increased. Together with the stereology results, this suggests that, although fewer cells express the NR2b subunit in the ageing AVPV, a greater percentage of these subunits are co-expressed with NR1. Our results suggest that the subunit composition of NMDA receptors in the AVPV undergo both age- and hormonal-regulation, which may be related to previous observations of changes in functional responses of reproductive neuroendocrine systems to NMDA receptor modulators with ageing.